Cade Cunningham has been churning out good raw production so far in his first season back from injury. Many Pistons fans are wary, though, if he is the one because the stellar stats are accompanied by problems of inefficiency and turnovers. Is he on track to becoming a bonafide NBA star? Or is he just a good-numbers-for-a-bad-team guy? How does Cade's performance compare to other NBA bus drivers at this stage in their career?
The difficulty when comparing Cade Cunningham's current performance to NBA stars is in determining the relevant period for comparison. Should we look at number of games played? Season? Age?
This is Cade's box score stat line so far for his 9 games this season, which are his 77th to 85th career games:
35.9 mpg, 24 ppg, 21.3 FGA, 6.6 3PA, 4.7 FTA, .328 3P%, .458 2P%, .857 FT%, 3.7 rpg, 7.1 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.2 bpg, 5.4 tov, 1.3 A/TO, 3.1 pf
For this analysis, my reference player is Devin Booker, which I think is the most apt comparison for Cade despite DBook playing more as an SG, not a PG. Early Booker was a young perimeter oriented guard thrust in a similar situation of carrying a weak team. Because of that, he was targeted heavily by opposing team's defenses as the obvious offensive engine, just like Cade.
Let's try comparing first with DBook's stats for his 77th to 85th career game. Coincidentally, these were Devin's first 9 games for his second season:
35.4 mpg, 20.3 ppg, 17.8 FGA, 5.1 3PA, 4.9 FTA, .283 3P%, .474 2P%, .818 FT%, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.4 tov, 1.2 A/TO, 3.0 pf
Cade does not compare badly, right? Their shooting efficiency numbers are quite close, which means they were both relatively inefficient with high production. Cade's assist numbers of course is higher because Booker was partnered then with a legit point guard in Eric Bledsoe. Their A/TO ratio, however, is close.
Now let's compare with DBook's stats for his first 9 games for his third season:
33.0 mpg, 23.4 ppg, 17.8 FGA, 6.1 3PA, 5.0 FTA, .400 3P%, .495 2P%, .911 FT%, 5.2 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.2 bpg, 2.8 tov, 1.43 A/TO, 2.7 pf
DBook in this case is more efficient already compared to Cade. This period covers DBook's 155th to 163rd career game. He has almost double Cade's games at this point.
Age is also a relevant consideration. DBook entered the NBA a year younger than Cade did. Let's compare Cade's performance with DBook's at the same age. Cade's first game this season was at 22 years old and 30 days. The closest comparison for DBook is his game at 22 years old and 29 days, which he played midway through his fourth season. These are his 9-game stats starting from the said game:
35.6 mpg, 26.4 ppg, 20.9 FGA, 6.4 3PA, 6.2 FTA, .328 3P%, .508 2P%, .875 FT%, 4.9 rpg, 7.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.6 bpg, 3.1 tov, 2.29 A/TO, 3.2 pf
Booker's stats here are clearly superior to Cade's. These games were already DBook's 226th to 234th career games.
What does this tell us? Cade Cunningham's efficiency numbers are right in line with Devin Booker's at the same point in their career in terms of number of games played. One may assume then that just like DBook, Cade could conceivably shoot more efficiently and address his turnover issues as he plays more games. Cade's problem, however, is that the extended time he missed because of injuries early in his career means that he has a lot of catching up to do to get to Booker's level at the same age.
My primary wish then for Cade is good health for the rest of the season. He is still on the path to NBA stardom. He just has to gain more and more reps. Cade Cunningham needs to make up for missed time to bring the Pistons back on course to restoration.
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